Marketing expert Louise Ellison returns with her first Marketing Toolbox article of 2020. Traditionally, the motor trade has been dominated by men, but this is changing and now garages should make the effort to appeal to female customers. Louise explains how…
Even in this modern era of feminism and equality, the motor trade is still undoubtedly a male dominated industry, dogged with a reputation for being unscrupulously sexist. This has resulted in women seriously lacking confidence when it comes to the maintenance of their cars, and in many cases, avoiding service centres until something goes wrong.
So, I want to talk about the importance of garages being female-friendly, and how you can attract more women to your garage. We make up 50% of the population and yet the majority of independent garages that I come across do not cater for the wants and needs of female consumers. As a driver, I have been on the receiving end of some interesting and varied levels of service in all kinds of garages since passing my driving test some 20 years ago. There was the time where the mechanic wanted to phone my dad and explain the problem with my car, another where they refused to speak to me, only dealing with my husband, and don’t get me started on the number of times that I have been addressed as ‘love’ or ‘darlin’’!
Then there’s the facilities. Transparent coffee served in flimsy plastic cups, oil stained furniture, and restrooms that resembled the toilet from Trainspotting. In fact, apart from a short interlude while I had a company car and used a main dealership, my track record of interactions with independent garages is, I’m sorry to say, negative.
Fast forward to 2019. When I started at BP Rolls, I set about defining our USPs: What was it about our business that made us stand out from the crowd? How were we different to the other garages in town? After joining the business, I made it my mission to make sure that we are approachable, honest and, of course, female-friendly. This led to some internal debate about what that meant, and whether it still needs to be addressed; surely the casual sexism from your old-school mechanics is a thing of the past?
To find out, I conducted a secret shopper exercise; visiting 20 garages within a five mile radius, seeking a quote for an interim service and asking for advice on an intermittent clutch issue. I am really pleased to report that my experiences were much more positive than in previous years! From a female perspective, choosing a garage to take care of the safety and reliability of our cars is not just about price point; we need to trust you, we want to feel appreciated, valued as a customer, and it goes without saying that we absolutely don’t want to be patronised.
So, here are my five top tips:
1. Give clear, jargon-free advice
Don’t assume women don’t know anything about cars. Some of us do and there’s nothing worse than being underestimated. I’m certain that not every man who walks through your door understands 100% of everything you tell him, so perhaps ask all your customers how technically minded they are before you launch into an explanation. A detailed written account of your findings on our service check-sheet or attached to the invoice is also helpful; we might not know what you are talking about in the moment, but at least we can google it when we get home.
2. Keep in touch!
Having regular contact with your customers is a great way of making sure they come back to you. We all know how prevention is better than cure, and many women cite the fear of the unknown as a reason to avoid visiting a garage, so encourage regular servicing and periodical health checks with a reminder when their next service is due. If they have advisories on their MOT, take the time to understand their budget and lifestyle before advising a plan for repairs, and if you’ve recently resolved a fault, a follow up call a week later to check everything is running properly will show that you care. A simple email newsletter and regular social media activity will also help keep you in mind, along with the occasional promotional offer.
3. Clean, clean, and clean again
From the cleanliness of your reception and waiting room, and perhaps more importantly, the toilets, your customers will appreciate a little extra effort in all of these areas. If you are offering a ‘while you wait’ service or MOT, then it is important that your facilities are clean and comfortable, especially if your customers are going to be sitting around for an hour or two. The same rule applies for front desk staff; a clean uniform shows that they take pride in their appearance and suggests that they will be able to look after the customer’s vehicle. If you really want to go the extra mile, offering a complimentary wash and vacuum is a great way of showing customers you care.
4. Make sure you waiting area is child friendly
It is important that you garage waiting room is a safe space for a customer’s children. During the day they are likely to be under the age of five, which means little ones will be crawling on the floor (see point 3) and need entertaining for the duration. If your floor looks like it hasn’t seen a hoover or a mop in months, it will be an instant turn-off to discerning parents. A small box of toys or a simple play table can make the world of difference to a flustered parent with an impatient toddler.
5. The importance of good coffee
There’s just no excusing bad coffee. If your coffee machine still serves watery powdered drinks in flimsy plastic cups, it needs to go. Serving good quality coffee shows you care about customer satisfaction. It doesn’t have to make a huge dent in your bottom line; there are a wide range of affordable entry level ‘pod’ machines on the market that will provide a great coffee to exceed your customers’ expectations.